Bach Mass in B Minor - Dunedin Consort - Early Music Review (Live Review)

Every now and then there is a concert that just blows me away, leaving me bereft of all my critical faculties. One such was the Bach B minor Mass given at St John's, Smith Square by the Dunedin Consort and Players, conducted by John Butt (17 May). Although I know and admire their previous CDs, this was the first time that I heard the Dunedin Consort live. They used the 2006 Joshua Rifkin edition, with 5 solo singers (Susan Hamilton, Cecilia Osmond, Margot Oitzinger, Thomas Hobbs and Matthew Brook) and 5 ripienists. One of the keys to the success of this performance was the total commitment of the performers and the conductor, with his energetic and focussed direction and his evident personal engagement with the music. His pacing and control of the power of the performers was excellent - his direction of the Crucifixus was exemplary. All the singers were excellent (the sopranos particularly so when they reined in their vibrato), but two soloists stood out. The Austrian mezzo Margot Oitzinger has an outstandingly clear and focussed voice, completely devoid of intrusive effects, and close to the sound of an (exceptionally good) adolescent boy's voice - ideal for Bach. Bass Matthew Brook was also outstanding, notably in the striding declamatory bass lines of the Sanctus - he is a singer that manages to draw the audience into his music. Of the players, particular mention must go to flautist Katy Bircher for her exquisite solo in the Benedictus, and Anneka Scott for one of the finest horn soloist I have ever heard in the Quoniam tu solus sanctus. I normally forgive horn players for all sorts of wheezes and auditory oddities, but this was absolute perfection. This was the launch of their Linn recording - the CD is a must-have.

Clifford Bartlett adds: I happened to be at the concert, and can back up every ounce of Andrew's enthusiasm. I too was impressed by the bass, Matthew Brook; once I noticed him, I couldn't keep my eye off him. He has such a relaxed, nonchalant manner - beautiful singing without any apparent effort. It was an amazing concert: so sad that the audience was small; at least they did their best when the time for applause came. [on the recording itself]: The Dunedins...have clarity not only on account of the singing, I must say; the wonderful Linn production team must take some of the credit...There have been many recordings of the B minor mass since Rifkin's version, but in my opinion the Dunedin is the first to come anywhere near challenging it.

Early Music Review (Live Review)
02 August 2010